NSHE – Too Big To Succeed?

In a prior post, “Chancellor Dan Klaich Dropping The Ball At NSHE,” I outlined a number of reasons detailing why increased oversight of Boss Klaich and the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) should be a top priority of the Nevada Legislature. As if the post was not compelling reason enough, right on cue, Boss Klaich provided yet another example why his management of Nevada’s system of higher education should be subject to increased scrutiny.

In a column appearing in the Las Vegas Sun on March 18, Patrick Coolican reported that Boss Klaich’s had placed all senior management at individual NSHE campuses under a gag order. Yes, you read that correctly a gag order issued by an unelected bureaucrat to suppress any disagreement about Boss Klaich’s proposed “reform” to the formula used to fund Nevada’s universities and colleges. According to the article, disobeying Boss Klaich’s edict “is a firing offense.”

I will talk about the implications of Boss Klaich’s use of his unchallenged authority to stifle free speech in a later post. For now, we must move forward because when it comes to NSHE there are so many issues that deserve public scrutiny that if we divert our attention for even a moment we will be unable to offer a full accounting of NSHE’s depravity.

So with that in mind, in the post, I examine the structure of NSHE itself to assess the degree to which Nevada’s scarce higher education dollars are being used to support Boss Klaich’s bureaucratic empire at the expense of educating Nevada’s college students.

The data presented in Tables 1 and 2 offer a good starting point for this discussion. Specifically, Table 1 summarizes the number of full time employees at NSHE and the seven institutions that fulfill the state’s higher education mission, as well as each of these institution’s share of Nevada’s student population. Table 2 compares NSHE to the system administration in similarly sized states.

 

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What immediately becomes apparent from Table 1 is that NSHE has more full time employees than three of the institutions it oversees: Nevada State College (NSC), Great Basin College (GBC), and Western Nevada College (WNC). To be fair all seven of the teaching institutions employ a large number of part time employees. However, these employees are temporary and are paid much less than full time employees and most receive no health or retirement benefits. In contrast, all of the 196 people employed at NSHE are full time.

How does the size of NSHE compare to other similarly situated states? After all, what is occurring in Nevada might simply be the norm in higher education. However, as the data presented in Table 2 make clear, this is not the case. Specifically, Table 2 compares Nevada to the five other states with similar populations in terms of the number of institutions (four year, two year, and public medical schools), the number of institutions ranked as Carnegie “Research University/Very High,” the number of system positions, and the compensation for top administrator.

 

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Clearly, NSHE is far outside the norm of comparable states. Not only does it oversee fewer total institutions than any of the comparison states, Nevada is the only state without an institution that has a top Carnegie ranking. As if that was not damning enough, the two columns on the far right hand side of Table 2 are even more telling: Boss Klaich’s staff is over twice as large as the next largest system staff and Boss Klaich is the top compensated higher education administrator in any of these states.

In sum, Boss Klaich not only oversees a bureaucratic empire that dwarfs many of Nevada’s institutions of higher education, the size of his staff and his compensation far exceeds that of any comparable state. Moreover, Boss Klaich has exempted his staff from any of the cuts that have been forced upon the teaching institutions. Because of the downturn in state revenue caused by the Great Recession, the budgets for the teaching institutions have been cut by roughly 30%.

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Specifically, Figure 1 presents the number of full time employees at each of the seven teaching intuitions and NSHE from 1997 to 2011 and indicates that the number of full time employees at all of the teaching institutions have decreased, while the staff size at NSHE has remained unchanged. So at a time when faculty lines are being cut, majors are being eliminated, and student fees are being rapidly increased, Boss Klaich and his empire have remained untouched. Thus, it appears that the priorities of NSHE are to hold the bloated system administration harmless, while gutting the teaching institutions. With this kind of management, is it any wonder why Nevada has no high performing colleges or universities.

In a future post I will examine in detail the activities of Boss Klaich’s empire. Indeed, with such a large administrative staff, one might expect that Nevada is able to regularly access federal higher education grants or that the Boss Klaich’s staff has the skill set to conduct meaningful analysis of higher education in Nevada. Sadly, neither of these is the case as Boss Klaich has a dismal record of obtaining federal grants for higher education and he regularly hires contractors to conduct analysis for NSHE. As a consequence, Nevadans are paying more money to subsidize an ineffective system that cannot address the needs of this state.